I stumbled on the Syriac Heritage Museum this morning. I didn’t even know that Syriac was used as an umbrella term for the Syriac-speaking community over the past two millennia. This would be, among other groups, the Chaldean Christian community. But Syriac actually has its roots among the Assyrians, Akkadians and Sumerians. It became obvious that the museum assistant I was speaking to this morning had a very clear sense that her ancestry went back way beyond the emergence of Christianity.
This is totally fascinating! I’ve obviously been to Islamic, Christian and Jewish museums and exhibitions many times, but this sense of ethnic belonging and history goes back further than any of these three faith communities. Strange that this museum was not even mentioned in the Lonely Planet. I just happened to walk past it in one of the streets behind my hotel in Ankawa.
They had some great exhibits at the museum and I particularly liked one of the Syriac manuscripts I saw – an old prayer book. It looked very similar to some old manuscripts I saw in Addis Ababa a few months ago. I also liked the huge posters with the Syriac alphabets next to the cuneiform alphabet.
The rest of the day has been a bit up and down. I loved walking through some of the winding streets inside the Erbil Citadel. It was very atmospheric and also very peaceful. There are virtually no tourists around, and zero hassle, which makes walking around there very enjoyable.
At the same time I got a bit rattled when I discovered that the Erbil International Hotel (aka “Sheraton”) was protected behind 3-4 metre high thick walls and airport-style security at the gate (X-ray machines for bags and security checking for bombs under cars with mirrors). I went there today in search for some Italian food but kind of lost my appetite after the elaborate security process.
It didn’t get any better when I walked along endless concrete walls protecting the Kurdistan Parliament Building and other government buildings while I was searching for the Martyr Sami Abdul-Rahman Park. Drawing pretty pictures on these concrete wall doesn’t really make their presence less imposing.
The memorial for the dead at the twin attacks in February 2004, which is located in the Martyr Sami Abdul-Rahman Park, calls the dead “patriots” for the Kurdish cause. I feel very safe walking the streets of Erbil, but recent history here is obviously pretty turbulent.
I’ve moved to a small hotel next to the Erbil City Square, to get closer to the action and to cut down costs. ATMs don’t work here and no-one accepts credit cards! Anyway, I really enjoyed chilling out in Erbil City Square after dark this evening. People just sit down next to you and start talking to you. Nice.